In “A Place For Us”, I find home.

A Place for Us came across my desk and into my life suddenly and all at once. What I mean by that is that the book, the author, and the opportunity to interview her (!!) all came to Dallas in one big wave. Stay tuned for a second post with my interview of Fatima Farheen Mirza; read on for my review of her stunning book.

Readers, I ate this book up. In a day, I had laughed, cried, loved, cried and cried again at this beautiful portrayal of a Muslim-American family struggling with culture, love, religion, community, and family. We follow the story through shifting perspectives–from the mother Laila, to the daughter Hadiya, to the son Amar, and finally to the father, Rafiq–and view a lifetime in each of their eyes. The incredible thing is, I immediately and fully connected with and empathized with each and every one of them. Because I knew them. I had known them all my life in the shape of various uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and family.

The book begins at Hadiya’s wedding; the appearance of her estranged brother Amar immediately creating tension among every member of the family. Drug use and short tempers are hinted at and then the book brings us into the past. The parents and siblings are young and we watch them grow. The book forces us to read on out of sheer curiosity–What led to Amar’s estrangement? A whodunnit of sorts. Something or someone must be the culprit.

We barrel ahead, tensing at every sign of adversity that little Amar faces, much like his parents, thinking, this is it. This is the catalyst to his fall, but he seems to come out of each one a little rougher but mostly ok. There are gaps & skips in Amar’s story and we feel the darkness that fills those empty spaces like we may sometimes feel a presence in our periphery–something we can’t quite place and when faced head-on, it disappears.

We switch perspectives. This time to Hadiya. I watch as the ‘perfect daughter’ persona I have unconsciously dressed her in unravels quietly. She remains an innocent and respectful daughter to her parents and in the eyes of her community, but as she grows and gives herself permission to become something more than what society has prescribed, she struggles with her own rebellions. Amar’s decline effects her deeply and she begins to reflect on her own memories critically, searching for the answer to a question–“What happened?”. Her guilt wraps tightly to a small betrayal from her childhood, a moment of petty jealousy, and rings it steadily like a gong whose vibrations reach into her every memory.

We switch to Laila, Amar’s mother, and closest confidant. We see glimpses of her life as a young girl in India blushing at the thought of the local ice cream man, a quick skim through her introduction to and marriage to Rafiq, and the quiet love that grows between them as they build their life together in America and witness the birth of their children. Then the worry sets in. We watch Hadiya and Amar grow up through Laila’s eyes. We see how sensitive Amar can be to the religious teachings she gives; how deeply he thinks about them. Hadiya’s loving and motherly nature comes naturally and from a young age. Laila does her best to support and protect her children every step of their development but despite her best efforts, we see Amar struggling. Laila’s intentions with her children are never anything but the best, so when she discovers a secret romance between Amar and the daughter of a highly respected family in their community, we hold our collective breath, waiting for her next move. Love is a complicated thing and we feel that acutely in her experience.

We only hear Rafiq’s views in the final act of the book. But, readers, it will rip your heart out. A retrospective letter to his estranged son, Rafiq’s perspective never shows us Rafiq’s life as a kid or a teenager. It begins as a father and ends as an old man, riddled with regrets and questions, perpetually replaying in his internal monologue.

Without ever letting us as readers force any one character into black-and-white, good-or-bad binaries, A Place For Us resists the reader’s urge to deal with the book’s uncomfortable or tragic situations by picking sides. It defies the pull of society to portray or place Muslims in a stereotype, an ‘Other’ category, or a box of any kind.

A Place For Us is shockingly honest. Moments throughout the book would suddenly resonate so strongly with my own internal thoughts that I would feel a visceral pang in my chest–an incredibly emotional feeling of belonging and relief to finally, finally be seen.

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Ready, Set, *Bang*: NaNoWriMo 2017

While some people are waking up to Nov 1st saying “Rabbit Rabbit”, writers all over the world have been up since midnight, furiously typing away in an attempt to write 50,000 words over the next 30 days. Why? Because it’s NaNoWriMo.

What’s NaNoWriMo?
NanoWrimMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November and it is self-inflicted insanity. In every corner of the world, writers are meeting up online and in person, getting together simply to motivate each other to write their dream novels in a sprint-style race against the clock. The goal isn’t to have a publishable work, perfect and pristine at the end of the month. It’s to make PROGRESS. A typical novel has about 80,000 words. Getting 50,000 of those down on paper in a rough draft format is a huge accomplishment, and if you’ve ever been stuck with writer’s block, you’ll understand what I mean.

write everything

I first found out about NaNoWriMo almost 7 years back but never felt like I could do it. Not this year! This year, I’ll be joining the fray for the very first time and I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited to see what I can do when I’m really pushed to my limits. I’ll be busy typing away for the rest of the month so I won’t be posting live updates each week but if you want to know how I’m doing throughout the month, it’ll probably look a little like this:

NaNoWriMo Calendar.png

Check back here on December 1st for my reaction to what is, by unanimous vote, the craziest adventure any writer takes each year. Fingers crossed I’m not brain dead by then!

You should be writingWell said, Doctor. Well said. *Gulp*

Halloween Movie Review: IT

Every since American Horror Story started up, for me, Halloween has stopped being about trick or treating and taken on a new shape–one of true horror. This year’s remake release of Stephen King’s IT is exactly the kind of movie to put you in the Halloween mood.

Confront your worst nightmares this month with IT, as a young group of 7 often-bullied high school teens make it their mission to find out why so many kids are disappearing in their small town of Derry. There’s blood, there’s jump scares, and best of all, there is a ton of screaming, Stranger Things edition–Finn Wolfhard from the cast of Stranger Things does another fantastic job in an 80’s throwback movie, screaming for his life. (Speaking of, who’s ready for today’s premiere of Stranger Things 2?! This girl, right here.)

A terrifying clown haunts our screen and the back of our eyelids as it takes on the shape of each person’s worst fears, be they rational or irrational. And because IT transformed from one person’s to another’s so frighteningly accurately, I couldn’t help wondering what mine would be.

I especially enjoyed the dialogue in this movie. It was witty, sarcastic, and on point. Each character was distinct but when the group of outcasts banded together, they didn’t seem awkward with each other. In fact, there were many LOL moments in the movie alongside the jump scares and the more terrifying shots of a dark thing approaching at great speed. A perfect blend, I’d say.

All in all, if you’re looking for a great movie to get you down to Halloweentown, I’d recommend this movie–alongside the more classic throwback Disney hit Halloweentown.

 

5 movies on Netflix perfect for a Valentine’s date with your literary lover

Dinner and a movie still make for the best date night. Add that personal, playful touch by arranging it at home. Just in time for your essential Valentine’s Day Netflix-and-chill session, here are 5 movies you can watch while you cuddle up with your lover. Order in a heart-shaped pizza from Papa John’s and the night is set!

  1. Clueless — based on Jane Austen’s Emma
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  2. 10 Things I Hate About You –inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew
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  3. Twilight — pulls from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
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  4. The Princess Bride –of the same name by William Goldman.
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  5. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries– Ok, so this one’s not on Netflix, it’s on Youtube, so cast it to your TV some other way. It’s won a TON of Emmy’s for its brilliant take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. TLBD takes on Austen’s novel in 4-minute Youtube videos, making for a refreshingly relevant take on an all time classic.
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Not feeling like Netflix? Here are a few others you won’t want to miss:

  1. She’s The Man –a hilarious rom com inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
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  2. Warm Bodies –love and zombies? Get some Romeo & Juliet action with this film
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  3. My Fair Lady –Shaw’s Pygmalion has inspired a lot of remakes over the years with Pretty WomanShe’s All That, and Trading Places, but the best and most classically acclaimed rendition is by far Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady
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  4. Easy A–One of Emma Stone’s best jobs, Easy A takes The Scarlet Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to new heights with its glorious high-school version
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Top 5 Books of 2016

Readers, open your books to page 394… May Alan Rickman rest in peace.

I read a grand total of 24 books this year and a lot of them were really good! More than can fit on this list, thankfully. Enjoy!

5. Hollow City by Random Riggs

In the second installment of Missouri Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, gives sophisticated topics a fresh point of view. Full grown adults, forever trapped in the bodies of their youth- how is maturity effected when you are living the same day over and over? And how quickly does that rose-tinted view of life last once thrust into the throes of war?

4. Muslim Girl by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

If you haven’t already, read my review of here.

3. Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources by Martin Ling

Lings drafts out a complete and thorough narrative of the story of the life of Prophet Muhammad through a variety of sources. Commonly, his story is told in fragments, so hearing the story of his life from birth to death made the man feel complete. I really enjoyed this listen from Audible.

2. Heartless by Marissa Meyer

See my raves of this wonderful book here.

1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (R.I.P)

This haunting story of a man’s awakening was incredible. And I could listen to Tim Robbins’ reading it over and over again. Indeed, it is one of those books that leaves you with an eerie sense of incompleteness. You feel like you missed something very important the first time around because you were so engrossed in the plot. You want to go back and see if you can pinpoint what you’re looking for. A true classic, up there with Brave New World and 1984, Fahrenheit 451 is my top read of 2016.

Now it’s your turn, dear readers. What were your favorite books of the year? Tell me in the comments below!

How could you be so Heartless?

If you’ve not read Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I greatly urge you to do so. I’ve always been a sucker for a good fairytale retelling. I’m still obsessed with Ella Enchanted. Meyer’s does wonders blending sci-fi and fantasy together in hers. 

Beyond her Lunar Chronicles series, Meyer’s new book, Heartless, does not disappoint. How did the Queen of Hearts find her catchphrase “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”? We are given the thrilling experience of finding out.

love Catherine, with her kind yet passionate nature and strong sense of purpose. I found Jest to be a bit odd but I grew to like him, as I grew to like his whole tea party of friends. In a topsy-turvy world on the other side of Wonderland, Meyer ingeniously made me love a story I’ve never been fond of before. How? She has a very clear understanding of her characters and their actions and growth throughout the story feels devastatingly true. 

I swear to you, readers, I read the whole thing in 12 hours straight. No bathroom breaks or meals. 5pm to 5am. It was a whirlwind. And when destiny came knocking, I found myself sobbing. That’s how invested I was. At 4am, I was crying in big heaving sobs. By the end, I was an emotional wreck; my chest aching, hollow. 

Looking again at the title of the book, I have to ask, who does Meyer leave heartless? Because I could have sworn it was me.

 

Einstein’s Dreams

This book is old, you guys. A good 24 years old.  And it’s refreshingly good.

At 144 pages, Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams is a quick but heavy read. Lightman uses Einstein’s musings on time as source material, taking the many drafts of Einstein’s early work on the theory of relativity and building new worlds where time works in strange ways.

In one of my favorite worlds, we see time functioning like gravity,  growing increasingly concentrated and dense as we travel closer to its epicenter. To the observer,  two statuesque lovers kiss for what seems a lifetime. The lovers are wrapped in the sounds of their unified hearts’ slow,  laborious beating.

In another world,  time moves differently for each person in the presence of others.  A mother sees her little boy meeting a woman at a cafe while the boy feels himself aging fasterror and faster in the company of the woman he is sitting across from in the cafe.

What’s truly fascinating is,  though these worlds are mere fantasy, crafted from the crumpled and discarded pages of a theory, they all seem to relate to the human condition.  I caught myself relating to some of the eeriest representations of time.

Pick it up or buy it on your favorite ebook app and let me know which versions do you feel you relate to most! Let me know in the comments!

A Muslim Girl’s reflections

I’m reading Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s Muslim Girl this weekend. I’m only halfway through but I’ve cried 3 times already! I didn’t realize how much my own experiences relate to hers, so much so that the lines between myself and the narrator are significantly blurred. We all know that our experiences are not unique and as much as we may think we’re alone in our struggles, we know there are plenty of people like us experiencing the same things, but reading them on paper! I never realized how much of an impact it would make.

Needless to say,  it’s been  very introspective read and is got me thinking about what it means to be an American Muslim Girl.

I was just recently naturalized. I’ve lived in the States for nearly my entire life and I’d pass the test that allowed me the privileges of citizenship,  but when I was speaking that oath I couldn’t help wondering, will the rest of society accept us as American? Does the rest of the country believe that a 10 question test is enough for one to attain the title of American that  leads so many to puff out their chests with pride?

Does it matter at all that I’m a Muslim American? There is so much history of American society turning on minorities among them, shouting the standard phrase, “Go back home!” It’s not just Muslims who have felt this pressure (and by Muslims I really mean people who look Arab, North African, or South Asian). The Chinese felt it sharply until 1965 when the Magnuson Act was repealed (because of the Masgnuson Act Asians were not only barred from immigration, but Asian Americans in all 50 states, including US citizens, were legally disfranchised and subjected to high rents and punitive taxes), Japanese Americans felt it soon after Pearl Harbor when over 62% of them were shipped to internment camps, and African Americans felt it as well. Their history is much better known than the others’ so I won’t go into the excessively cruel discrimination against them.

If after reading this you think “Well, looks like it’s the Middle East’s turn” then you’re missing the point. Putting aside the fact that you’ve just approved of discrimination and racism against the millions of “others” in this world, which you very well could be considered in any other part of the world, the fact is that this form of discrimination happened to legal American citizens. So what is the true value of citizenship in America? Freedom of speech? Freedom of/from religion? Both have been denied to one group or another in the past. Right to vote and the right to a timely trial and fair jury? The former was denied to Black Americans and the latter was denied to Anwar Al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan, all citizens by birth, not even by naturalization.

What do you think? What makes an American? And what are the benefits of citizenship? Are we truly safe to live our lives in America as Americans?

Caution: Banned Books found here

Hey Readers,

I’ve been feeling rebellious recently. Maybe it’s because the days are growing shorter (what a phrase! Growing shorter?) and the nights are increasingly darker as winter arrives. Or maybe it’s my dark lipstick and makeup’s bad influence? Whatever it may be, I’m in the mood for a little rebellion. If you’re right there with me, take a stab at confronting censorship head on. Grab one of these banned books at your local library or bookstore.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Native Son by Richard Wright –I wouldn’t read this book after dark. It gets pretty gruesome!
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak –Baffled? So was I. The dark themes of the story made quite a few people nervous about making this available to children.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

You can do a little jig walking down the sidewalk ‘cuz you’ve stuck it to the Man–and also because you know you’re in for a treat tonight. Nothing is better than cozying up in your thickest knit, a cup of coffee by your side, and a forbidden fruit–i mean, book–in hand.

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Freedom of speech is a big deal in America, but too often we glaze over it when it happens in our very own communities. The media’s pushing soundbites like little pills in the playground. You laugh, but take a minute to think about it. Are these really just succinct phrases that embody a complete whole? Can we say for sure that our outlook on issues and people in the news isn’t being skewed by these censored bits and pieces? Because that’s really what a soundbite is–censorship at its trendiest.

Do you agree? Where else do you see censorship at work? Next time you see it, call it out, and think about why it’s happening. Then, go out and get educated. That’s the only way to fight this particular illness, the symptoms of which are ignorance and gullibility.

Penny for your thoughts

Dear Reader,

I’ve a question for you. Which is the greater of the two, a story that has yet to be lived or one that simply remains to be written? Does it matter? Be it the author’s intention to recite a tale of longing and love lost, or a young girl’s leap into the thrilling unknown, you, oh reader, are experiencing it for the first time. You do not care for the ending until you arrive at it and yet you feel dread betwixt the drama, joy and a craving for the next when it arrives at the last page. If you agree, then let us begin at the end.

They lived happily ever after…

Sincerely,
Yours Truly